For a refugee adjusting to a new country, developing a language skill set is just one of many major concerns. Displaced people must cope with the stress of building a life in their new country with potentially little to no support system, and may also have to grapple with the traumas and hardships they have suffered in their country of origin.
Many refugees will develop the necessary language skills, but this may not occur for some time. And since these refugees will need to quickly gain an understanding of how to fulfill their most basic needs in their new country, they may need to make use of an interpreter.
A Period of Adjustment
Many refugees may have trouble adjusting to the shift in perspective that is often required in order to live in a new culture. Customs, speech and behavior might be very different from those of the refugee’s home country. If there is no one to interpret what the refugee is seeing and hearing, it may become difficult for a displaced person to meet even their most basic needs.
Refugees require access to healthcare, emergency and legal services, just like any other citizen. Having certified medical interpreters at the hospital and telephonic interpreters at emergency dispatch centers would go a long way toward providing refugees with timely and effective aid. By using interpreting services, medical staff would be able to better communicate, and to administer the best course of treatment.
Help in Healing
There are many reasons why refugees might be forced to flee their home country. War, poverty, famine and political upheaval, among other catastrophes, often displace great masses of humanity and force them to seek safe haven in an adopted country.
Events such as these can leave a person with serious psychological and emotional trauma, which they may not be able to deal with on their own. But in order for social workers or counselors to provide help, they must first breach any existing language barrier.
Mental health professionals need to know as much information as possible in order to provide the best care. Engaging the services of a professional interpreter can help ensure that the lines of communication remain open during any counseling sessions, so that a counselor or social worker can best determine how to proceed in the healing process.
For a refugee, feeling that they are fully involved in the community in which they live can be a huge step in the process of adjusting to their adopted country. Becoming an active member of the community can allow a displaced individual to regain a sense of mutual trust and dignity.
Many refugees choose to live among people of their own ethnic group. Feelings of displacement can often be abated if a refugee is surrounded by people with whom they share a linguistic or cultural heritage. But some refugees either cannot or do not want to live among people of a similar background. Naturally, if this is the case, a refugee’s neighbors may end up speaking a different language from the refugee themselves.
Local governments or neighborhood organizations can help cross existing language barriers by hosting orientation or community-building events in support of a refugee or refugee population. But they will need to supply interpreters so that refugees can become familiar with their new neighbors without the pitfalls of having to communicate in an unfamiliar tongue.
The Need for Professionals
For many refugees, resources are in short supply and finding interpreters can be difficult. For this reason, friends or family members who speak the language of a refugee’s new country are often pressed into service for their interpreting ability.
But it is not sufficient to use ad hoc interpreters such as family or community members to facilitate a dialogue with a displaced person. These individuals, while they might mean well, lack the expertise to provide thorough and precise interpreting services. Professional interpreters are trained to maintain their accuracy and neutrality, focusing only on getting the message exactly right and not letting emotion color the interpreting.
Of course, many refugees will not have the means to acquire an interpreter by themselves. Government and non-profit agencies may have to help displaced individuals by providing interpreting services. After all, until a refugee’s language skills improve, using an interpreter is one of the best ways to adjust to their new home.